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Citizens' of Ankara: Re-assemble!
Organisation : Ankara/The Citizens' Assembly of Ankara , Turkey

The transformative action is about creating a metropolitan level participatory mechanism, namely "the Citizens' Assembly of Ankara," through upscaling existing participatory mechanisms in the capital city of Ankara, bringing together a diverse set of stakeholders and community organizations and using innovative facilitation techniques to tackle problems of sustainable urbanization. The innovative facilitation techniques involved made it possible to define and enact sound local sustainable development policies in the democratically elected local councils and created a solidarity network to implement them. Currently, the participatory mechanism established here is the most widespread and effective participatory practice in Turkey.

Agendas addressed
DecarbonisationUrban mobilityBiodiversity
Greenfield land and natural spaceWater resources and air qualityClimate change
Public spaceSocial inclusion and integrationLocal economies and employment
Pathways followed
  • Ensure equal access to municipal services
  • Involve citizens through participatory implementation
  • Encourage local private and civic engagement
  • Promote social innovation supporting inclusion
  • Capitalise on local economy and production
  • Create and close local value chains
  • Wisely select and apply smart technologies
  • Guarantee equal access to information & digital services
  • Prepare policies for socio-cultural changes due to innovation
Context
General Forum

The scale and the historical experience of Ankara, the capital city of Turkey, makes it extremely difficult for the establishment of a Citizens’ Assembly to realize participatory local government and community awareness. Nearly six million inhabitants live in a vast metropolitan region in Central Anatolia, divided into twenty-five district municipalities with thousands of institutionalized stakeholders. The population living in Ankara is extremely polarized in political terms due to the twenty-five-year reign of the previous mayor. He was notoriously known for his autocratic, nepotist, and corrupt administration eroded community awareness and participatory practices. The city is left with disastrous problems with the infrastructure, ecological sustainability, economic prosperity, urban development, and conservation of the cultural heritage. Establishing a Citizens’ Assembly that is inclusive, trustworthy, and well-organized to bring together various stakeholders to tackle these problems in Ankara is an extreme challenge. 

In Action
General Forum 2

The most important means to achieve the objective mentioned above in Ankara was establishing an innovative “Citizens’ Assembly” structure. According to the Turkish Law of Municipalities, a “citizens’ assembly” is a non-profit, non-governmental, autonomous community organization, consolidating community participation and citizen initiatives at the street, neighborhood, district, and metropolitan levels to define local policies and raise community awareness related to sustainable development, livability, and good governance. In 2019, a new mayor was elected. One of his major promises was to strengthen participatory governance. For this purpose, a project was launched under the name “Citizens of Ankara: Re-assemble!” with three main targets: (1) Persuade and gain the trust of a significant sample of stakeholders in Ankara to become a member of the Assembly using innovative facilitation and organization techniques, (2) Define local policies and strategies for structural problems of Ankara Region with these newly recruited members and pursue enactment of these proposals in the Metropolitan Council, (3) Strengthen community awareness and create concrete solidarity examples among citizens especially in crises. The innovative aspect of our experience is the extensive use of facilitation techniques as a cheap, effective, humanly, and efficient means of participation. An effective integrated facilitation strategy and methodology helped the Project’s success in the establishment of the Citizens’ Assembly in a relatively short time and to gain the trust of stakeholders, encourage them to express themselves, put forward their ideas about community awareness, and disseminate these ideas in the public sphere. Continuous and vigorous facilitation increased freedom of thought, self-actualization, and a sense of community. In this methodology, three types of facilitated processes were devised: (1) “general forums,” in which all the representatives of the stakeholders participated and discussed the establishment, management, and participation to the Assembly, (2) “working group meetings,” in which different themes related to proposals to the Municipal Council were elaborated upon and (3) “focus groups,” in which needs assessment and tools for improving community engagement is tackled. So far, three general forums, over 400 working group meetings, and 200 focus groups were realized. A facilitation road map is used to establish a voluntary capacity to use facilitation techniques and ascertain priorities of gender equality and participation of disadvantaged groups into consideration. The results of the facilitated meetings were disseminated in memos, policy notes, or reports via e-mail and social media channels for open and accountable participation.

Results
General Forum 3

All project objectives were achieved in two years: (1) Over 1200 stakeholder public, private, and civil society institutions involving universities, associations, foundations, chambers, unions, neighborhood administrations, public agencies, and municipalities became members of this participatory organization together with over 5000 individual volunteering experts and citizens making The Citizens’Assembly of Ankara largest participatory network in Turkey and possibly in Europe. (2) The members of the Citizens’ Assembly were organized into 35 working groups. They then prepared policy recommendations about sustainability issues related to a bicycle master plan, a climate action plan, increasing urban parks, an education program for people with disabilities, and celebrating important historical days, all of which were enacted with a unanimous vote in the metropolitan Municipal Council. (3) A solidarity initiative emerged from the working groups and volunteers in the Citizens’ Assembly of Ankara to raise community awareness in different areas. This initiative became the largest supporting network to the Municipality during Covid-19 Pandemic by supporting mutual aid for the impoverished and fostering neighborhood-level solidarity campaigns. There was a dramatic increase in community awareness. Today, the Ankara Citizens’ Assembly is seen as one of Turkey’s most promising participatory mechanisms by experts and government officials.

Below there are some quotes about the impact of the Assembly:

-“The Citizens’ Assembly did a tremendous job in bringing together diverse stakeholders and having them think voluntarily about our city. We could not have reached the same result if we had paid them money”. Mansur Yavaş, Mayor of Ankara Metropolitan Municipality.

-“A city should have an organization like the Assembly, that helps us remember community values and solidarity without submerging into usual political and corrupt practices.” A citizen from Ankara.

Impact

There are significant environmental ad socio-economic impacts of the transformative action, most of which was implemented together with the Citizens' Assembly and its stakeholders:

1. A climate action plan is being prepared to decrease carbon emissions by at least %35 in five years.

2. 40 Kilometers of new bicycle infrastructure is built in a year to realize sustainable transportation. 

3. %15 of the existing infrastructure is renewed, including sustainable methods such as rain harvest technologies. 

4.  For sustainable use of the water resources, dry landscaping pilot projects were realized. 

5. New public open spaces were designed and implemented using participatory methods to increase the sense of urban identity. 

6. Sustainability policies for various sectors in the city were defined in workshops using participatory methods to realize adaption of urban economic resiliency.

7. Building up a mutual aid solidarity network to support disadvantaged people covering around 400 thousand inhabitants, especially during the pandemic. 

8. Production of an integrated mobile app and a user-friendly website to realize electronic participation. 

9. An outreach of participation of around 600 thousand people via 1200 stakeholder institutions. 

10. Over 100 urban public events to increase a sense of belongingness among citizens. 

11. Implementation of urban agriculture projects to provide healthy food to poor urban residents and prosperity for rural dwellers.

12. Implementation of new water tariffs to increase sustainable use of water in the city. 

13. Provision of educational services to people with disabilities. 

14. Enactment of an equal opportunities agreement for gender mainstreaming. 

Challenges and lessons learned
Sustainable Design Workshop

Some of the most difficult challenges in a participatory experience are related to the methodology to ensure effective inclusion. Although a participatory process could be seen as an open learning endeavor to ensure the fundamental premises of equality, freedom of speech, and autonomy, an open and accountable framework is needed. This framework should also be cheap, efficient, and easy to implement under pressure. Facilitation techniques and related capacity-building activities used in our experience are among the widespread skills found in most countries in our time. Thus, we believe that using facilitation as a means for ensuring widespread participation is highly transferable.

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Contact

ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability
European Secretariat

Leopoldring 3
79098 Freiburg
Germany

Tel.: +49 (0) 761 – 368 92 0
Fax: +49 (0) 761 – 368 92 19

E-mail: info@sustainablecities.eu
Website: www.sustainablecities.eu

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